Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
People have died from drinking contaminated water or eating fish from severely polluted streams, lakes or rivers. The cholera outbreak of 2008 that killed 4 000 people will always be a talking point. Legislation aimed at improving water use efficiency, conservation and protection such as the ZINWA and Water Acts, though laudable, have failed to effectively curb pollution of the country’s water systems, if at all.
Another striking case in point is Harare’s main water source, Lake Chivero, which resembles a pond of sewage due to excessive pollution.
Now, a Cabinet Committee made up of six ministries has recently released, in part, findings from a study on the sources and causes of water pollution in the country.
The Committee laid a blanket blame on municipalities, food, beverage and oil companies, funeral and tannery businesses for discharging a variety of harmful industrial chemical waste and raw sewage that degrade under and above ground water or cause corrosion of water pipelines.
The Committee did not however disclose the actual extent of the level of pollution, but it is beyond doubt the levels are bad.
There is sufficient evidence from the brownish/greenish liquid that runs through taps in millions of Harare’s homes.
Last week the leader of the Cabinet Committee Dr Ignatius Chombo, who is also Local Government minister, threatened to shutdown, within six weeks, corporate polluters which fail to upgrade or install effective technologies that limit water degradation.
Dr Chombo will probably have to close down the Harare or the Bulawayo municipalities first.
His Committee’s report shows that the two councils, among numerous others, are topping the list of institutional polluters.
Harare alone daily discharges 3 885 mega litres or 19,43 million drums of raw sewage into water systems around the capital city.
That’s 299 times more than that released by Bulawayo. Several millions of dollars are now needed to treat the council’s mess.
It is undeniable, corporate environmental offenders need a tough hand to keep them in constant check.
But will shutting them down stop the pollution?
The existing difficult economic situation is already forcing hundreds of companies to go under without unsolicited help from the Cabinet Committee on water pollution.
Closures will cause massive job losses. Take for instance the number of people employed in the food industry.
Since the Committee does not single out any particular offenders in this sector, it is safe to assume every business currently operating is guilty of pollution of one kind or the other.
Dr Chombo said “food outlets and food processing plants discharged organic solids, oils and fats into sewer reticulation systems” causing blockages.
Not all will meet the June 30 deadline for overhauling their waste management systems, nay, not with the prevailing industry-wide working capital limitations.
And if indeed the offenders are shut down, who is going to pay for the environmental damage they have already caused?
Authorities need to start looking beyond company closures to compensation and revising penalty fees to make them truly deterrent for would be corporate environmental polluters.
The highest possible penalty – level 14 fine – against corporate environmental offenders is only $5 000, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) spokesperson, Mr Steady Kangata says. The lowest, level one is $5.
By comparison, the Cabinet Committee’s study said over $13 million was needed to clean Mazai and Pekiwe rivers, tributaries feeding into Bulawayo’s main water source, which have been damaged by the city’s raw sewage disposals.
Three years ago, the Harare and Chitungwiza municipalities were fined about $10 000 combined by EMA for similar offences.
Giant beverage maker, Delta paid $5 000 in penalties for water pollution. Until now, the situation has yet to improve.
No one has been closed down.
Elsewhere, big oil firm, BP has paid out billions of dollars in fines and compensation for an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that did not kill people but aquatic wildlife and caused loss of income for fishermen in 2011.
Here, the cyanide killers were last year jailed 15 years each for poisoning wildlife. Yet, million dollar profit-making companies that poison water consumed by humans get off with a $5 000 fine.
The fines are too low and serving little or no purpose. “We are handicapped because we do not set the fines,” lamented Mr Kangata.
“That is why as EMA we have been calling for environmental courts. With the courts, we feel environmental issues (such as those on fines) would be given the highest priority. Cases will also be expedited.”
The polluters are now known. They are the ones to compensate, in addition to heavy fines paid out to Government, possibly into a national environmental fund, to be deployed towards important eco-work.
In the meantime, polluters should put their houses in order. The Government’s ultimatum is real.
Businesses need to seriously start looking at green growth—an inclusive concept that looks at development not only from the perspective of profits, but also ecological and social sustainability.
As suggested by Dr Chombo, periodic unannounced and continued inspections by local authorities, EMA and the National Social Security Authority will ensure compliance.
EMA director general Mrs Mutsa Chasi told a Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries/Nestle Zimbabwe Creating Shared Value forum in Harare last week that companies need to turn green, at all cost.
“There’s going to be more droughts in Zimbabwe and the world over. This means the little water we have is going to be scarce and if we pollute it, we will suffer,” she said.
“While doing business, make sure you do cleaner production. Create green jobs, reduce gas emissions.
“You need to ask yourselves the impact of your production. All the waste we produce, think about how you will get rid of it.”
By building clusters of industries and pin them down for fanning pollution, the Committee creates the impression every business in that block is responsible, and indeed polluting. Others feel hard done.
Nyaradzo Funeral Services chief executive, Mr Philip Mataranyika, whose sector has been implicated for releasing into water below the surface toxic substances used to preserve the dead, denied any wrong doing.
He said all their parlours across Zimbabwe were compliant, fitted with functional waste management systems as required by local authorities.
“Formaldehyde is an embalming fluid that is injected into the body of a dead person like penicillin is injected into a living being at the hospital as an antibiotic,” said Mataranyika, whose organisation, arguably Zimbabwe’s biggest funeral firm, now stands accused of degrading the same environment for whose protection Nyaradzo is known to champion.
“I do not see how a funeral parlour will take such as expensive chemical and pour it down the drain just to contaminate water. Secondly, a dead body is washed in the same way as that of the living.”
On disposing of water used to treat corpses, Mr Mataranyika said: “I cannot speak for other companies, but there is a system that has been recommended by the City of Harare, where every funeral parlour should have a septic tank for pre-treating waste before it goes into the main water system.
“All our parlours countrywide are fitted with such septic tanks. We are an organisation that is very cognisant of the need to protect our water bodies from pollution.”
But Mr Kangata insisted every business, big or small, that falls into the accused categories was guilty.
“If (Nyaradzo) is a funeral parlour then it’s within the category (of those polluting),” Mr Kangata said by telephone on Thursday.
“There are various categories. We could not pinpoint companies but we are saying service stations, funeral parlours, those in the food industry, milling companies . . . any company that you can think of and is in the food industry, (for example, is responsible).”
God is faithful.